Ta Rē Moriori
Native toNew Zealand
Extinct1898, with the death of Hirawanu Tapu[1]
Revival20th century–2001
Language codes
ISO 639-3rrm

Moriori, or ta rē Moriori[2] ('the Moriori language'), is a Polynesian language most closely related to New Zealand Māori. It is spoken by the Moriori, the indigenous people of New Zealand's Chatham Islands (Rēkohu in Moriori), an archipelago located east of the South Island. Moriori went extinct as a first language at the turn of the 20th century, but revitalisation attempts are ongoing.

Moriori is a Polynesian language that diverged from Māori dialects after centuries of isolation, while still remaining mutually intelligible. The language has a guttural diction and consistent suppression of terminal vowels, meaning that unlike in Māori words may end in consonants.[3][4]


The Chatham Islands' first European contact was with William R. Broughton of Great Britain who landed on 29 November 1791 and claimed the islands which he named after his ship, HMS Chatham. Broughton's crewmen intermarried with the women of Moriori.

The genocide of the Moriori people by mainland Māori iwi (tribes) Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama occurred during the autumn of 1835.[5] Approximately 300 were killed, around one sixth of the original population.[6] Of those who survived, some were kept as slaves, and some were subsequently eaten. The Moriori were not permitted to marry other Moriori or have children with them, which endangered both their survival and their language.[7] The impact on the Moriori population, culture, and language was so severe that by 1862 only 101 Moriori remained alive,[8] and by the 1870s few spoke the language.[9]

The three principal documents on which knowledge of the Moriori language is now based are a manuscript petition written in 1862 by a group of surviving Moriori elders to Governor George Grey; a vocabulary of Moriori words collected by Samuel Deighton, Resident Magistrate from 1873 to 1891, published in 1887; and a collection of Moriori texts made by Alexander Shand and published in 1911.[10]

The death of the Moriori language went unrecorded,[10] but Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Baucke (1848–1931) was the last man who could speak it.[11]

Samuel Deighton's vocabulary of Moriori words was republished as an appendix of Michael King's Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989).

The language was reconstructed for Barry Barclay's 2000 film documentary The Feathers of Peace,[12] in a recreation of Moriori contact with Pākehā and Māori.

In 2001, as part of a cultural revival movement, Moriori people began attempts to revive the language, and compiled a database of Moriori words.[13] There is a POLLEX (Polynesian Lexicon Project Online) database of Moriori words as well.[14] A language app is available for Android devices.[15]

The 2006 New Zealand census showed 945 people choosing to include "Moriori" amongst their tribal affiliations, compared to 35 people in the 1901 census.[16] In the 2013 New Zealand census the number of people who identified as having Moriori ancestry declined to 738, however members of the imi (Moriori equivalent for iwi)[17] estimate the population to be as many as 3,500.[18]

In 2021 an app called Ta Re Moriori was launched in order to teach the Moriori language to as many new people as possible.[15]


Comparison with Maori

Words in Moriori often have different vowels from their Māori counterparts.

The preposition a in Moriori corresponds to e in Māori, the preposition ka to ki, eriki to ariki (lord, chief), reimata to roimata (tear), wihine to wahine (woman), and so forth.[19]

Sometimes a vowel is dropped before a consonant such as na (ena), ha (aha) and after a consonant like rangat (rangata), nawen (nawene), hok (hoki), or (oro), and mot (motu), thus leaving a closed syllable. In this regard, it is similar to the Southern dialects of Māori, in which apocope is occasionally found. A vowel is also sometimes dropped after a vowel in the case the preceding vowel is lengthened and sometimes before a vowel, where the remaining vowel is lengthened.[4][3]

The consonants [k], [h], and [t] can sometimes be aspirated and palatalised, such as Motchuhar instead of Motuhara.


  1. ^ "Hirawanu Tapu Peace Scholarship" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 January 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  2. ^ "A mission to wake up the Moriori language". University of Auckland. 16 November 2023. Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  3. ^ a b Richards, Rhys (2018). "Comparisons of Moriori, Maori, and Easter Island Cognates". Rapa Nui Journal. 31 (1): 38–40. doi:10.1353/rnj.0.0001. Project MUSE 716986.
  4. ^ a b Taiuru, Karaitiana (2016). "Word list and analysis of te reo Moriori" (PDF). Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  5. ^ Mills, Keri (3 August 2018). "The Moriori myth and why it's still with us". The Spinoff. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  6. ^ "Moriori Claims Settlement Bill 238-1 (2020), Government Bill 8 Summary of historical account – New Zealand Legislation". Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  7. ^ "The Genocide". Moriori Genocide. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  8. ^ Davis, Denise; Solomon, Māui (28 October 2008). "Moriori: The impact of new arrivals". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  9. ^ King, Michael (1989). Moriori: A People Rediscovered. Auckland: Viking. p. 136.
  10. ^ a b Clark, Ross (2011). "Moriori: language death (New Zealand)". In Wurm, Stephen A.; Mühlhäusler, Peter; Tryon, Darrell T. (eds.). Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Vol. I. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 173–175. ISBN 978-3-11-081972-4. The death of the Moriori language was not documented in any detail...
  11. ^ King, Michael (2017). Moriori: A People Rediscovered. Penguin Random House New Zealand Limited. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-14-377128-9. Baucke was eventually the last man alive to know the Moriori language.
  12. ^ "The Feathers of Peace". New Zealand Film Commission. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  13. ^ Davis, Denise; Solomon, Māui (28 October 2008). "Moriori: The second dawn". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  14. ^ Greenhill, SJ; Clark, R (2011). "POLLEX-Online: The Polynesian Lexicon Project Online". Oceanic Linguistics. 50 (2): 551–559. doi:10.1353/ol.2011.0014. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-002B-060E-D.
  15. ^ a b Hokotehi Moriori Trust (1 March 2021). "Ta Rē Moriori Language App Launched" (Press release).
  16. ^ Davis, Denise; Solomon, Māui (28 October 2008). "Moriori: Facts and figures". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  17. ^ Devere, Heather; Te Maihāroa, Kelli; Solomon, Maui; Wharehoka, Maata (2020). "Friendship and decolonising cross-cultural peace research in Aotearoa New Zealand". AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies. 6 (1): 53–87. doi:10.5518/AMITY/31. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  18. ^ Wall, Tony; McKeen, Chris. "Divided Tribe". Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  19. ^ a b Ager, Simon. "Moriori (Te Rē Mōriori)". Omniglot. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

Further reading